DON'T FORGET YIMI
Yimi Garcia (RP-MIA) is firmly in the mix to close games in Miami despite the team signing Anthony Bass during the offseason. We, in fact, like him the most out of all the arms in the Miami bullpen, as we have him slated for an ERA about 3.6, a WHIP around 1.2, and a K/9 about 9. No, not a lights-out option, but he doesn't need to be in a relatively thin bullpen situation. Since making his MLB debut with the Dodgers in 2014, Garcia has been a more than serviceable reliever, with a 3.40 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9 across 174.2 career IP. As that inning total suggests, injuries have been an issue, as he has only topped 50 IP twice in his career (although, of course, the shortened 2020 campaign shouldn't count against him).
As long as Garcia is healthy, he should be a fairly reliable source of holds or saves (depending on the role he secures) out of the Marlins bullpen. He was pretty good across his 15 IP (14 appearances) in 2020, as he logged a 0.60 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, and 3 BB/9. Of course, his 3.2 xFIP suggests that the ERA would have corrected to the mean had there been more of a season to play, especially as he surrendered no home runs and stranded 93% of baserunners. For his career, Garcia owns a solid 12% swinging strike rate while Statcast shows that opposing batters have made hard contact at a modest 33% clip against him. Especially if he can lower his BB/9 back down toward his 1.8 career average while maintaining a solid strikeout rate and continuing to minimize hard contact, Garcia could be a solid contributor in a fantasy bullpen.
WAIT FOR DUVALL TO GO ON A HEATER
Adam Duvall (OF-MIA) signed with the Marlins in early February and he figures to be the team's starting RF to open the season. The 32 year-old batted .237 with 16 homers and 33 RBI across 209 PA with Atlanta last season. His strikeout rate just under 26% was a career best while he logged a career-average 12.5% swinging-strike rate and the same goes for his 74% contact rate. With OF prospects such as Jesus Sanchez awaiting in the high minors, Duvall appears to be a temporary fix in the Miami outfield. But can he help your fantasy team in 2021?
So long as he receives regular playing time, he's likely a 4th OF or UTIL-type guy in deeper leagues. In shallower leagues, Duvall should remain on the waiver wire while you wait and see if he catches fire, which is entirely possible - he did last year before cooling off down the stretch. We have Duvall slated as roughly the #100 overall OF, with a projected average of about .245 with a homer total in the mid-20s. His career average is only .233 across 2170 PA, so his contribution would come in the power department, and his track record, which includes last season's 16 homers in 209 PA - as well as 33 and 31 dingers in 2016 and 2017, respectively - indicates that he could give your team a power surge if you add him if/when he heats up.
STILL DOWN ON ALFARO
Jorge Alfaro (C-MIA) put together an underwhelming 2020 campaign, as he batted just .226 with 3 homers and 16 RBI across 100 PA. But hey, he did chip in a pair of stolen bases. Alfaro did miss the start of the 2020 campaign as he landed on the IL because of COVID and perhaps that slowed him thereafter. But I had major reservations about Alfaro entering the campaign after he batted .262 with 18 homers and 57 RBI in 2019. I cited a high strikeout rate (34% career), free-swinging approach (4.5% career walk rate), and groundball-heavy profile (51% career) as concerning. So, it might be a silly question to ask how I feel about him entering the 2021 campaign.
But let's do it anyway. We can start with our projected .250 average and 10 homers for him, and a ranking as about the #30 overall C. He's clearly the starter in Miami, as he's ahead of Chad Wallach on the depth chart. But Alfaro is a flawed batter despite his knack for making hard contact, as Statcast shows a career-hard hit rate of 44% and an average exit velocity of over 90mph. But for a guy who possesses merely average speed but good raw power, Alfaro's career average launch angle is just 6, hence the high groundball rate (and just a 28% career flyball clip). Yet, even if he does adopt a more flyball-oriented approach to hit more dingers, he'll still be a liability in the average department thanks to a 62% career contact rate and a 23% career swinging-strike rate. Run - don't walk - away if you even briefly consider rostering Alfaro.
TUCKER COULD START, BUT SHOULD WE CARE?
Cole Tucker (SS-PIT) arrived in the majors back in 2019 with a bit of buzz because of his minor-league track record that showed a knack for stealing bases (he stole 47 across AA and AAA in 2017 and another 35 in AAA in 2018). But he fizzled in his debut, as he batted just .211 with a pair of homers with no (yeah, zero) steals across 159 PA. He logged another 116 PA in 2020, but mustered just 1 homer and 1 stolen base while hitting just .220. He's struggled a bit with the whiffs (26% strikeout rate) and hasn't taken many walks (5.5% walk rate in the majors, but Tucker is also still just 24 and is competing for the starting SS gig in Pittsburgh as spring training unfolds. So, what do we expect from Tucker in 2021?
Well, we currently have him ranked as roughly our #50 overall SS (you read that right), with a projected average of about .240 to go along with 10ish homers and very few steals. After all, Tucker never hit for much average or power in the minors, and his impressive stolen base totals came despite scouts only grading out his speed as slightly above average. At 6'4", there is a chance that he fills out a bit and offers a bit more pop as a result, but his work to date in the majors has been uninspiring. Tucker owns a 31% career hard-hit rate per Statcast to go along with a 74% contact rate and a 12% swinging-strike rate. Not much to see here, unless your fantasy league has a category for players dating celebrities.
PITTSBURGH'S CRASH DAVIS
Todd Frazier (3B-PIT) recently signed with the Pirates, where he will serve as the resident Crash Davis-type for a perpetually rebuilding franchise. The 35 year-old was fantasy relevant as recently as 2016, when he batted .225 with 40 dingers, 98 RBI, and 15 stolen bases for the White Sox, but his career pretty much collapsed thereafter, as his best season since was a .251/21/67 campaign with the Mets last season. In Pittsburgh, he is expected to take up the lighter side of the platoon at 1B with Colin Moran and serve as the reserve 3B behind emerging star Ke'Bryan Hayes. So, do we see Frazier having much fantasy value in 2021?
In a word, nope. We have Frazier slated for a .230ish average and about 15 homers as he continues his slow ride off into the sunset of his career. While he's not fanning a ton (24% last year, 22% career), Statcast shows that last year's 31% hard-hit rate was the lowest of his career while his average exit velocity dipped under 88mph even as he's remained a fairly flyball-oriented hitter (44% last year, same for his career). The low average Frazier seems guaranteed to record (.242 career) is a killer and any wheels he had (he did steal 13+ bags each year 2014-2016) are worn out (just 2 total steals over the last 2 seasons). So, the one area he would contribute the most is power, and he hasn't smacked more than 21 dingers since 2017. Let him sit on the waiver wire.
ALFORD COULD BECOME FANTASY-RELEVANT
Anthony Alford (OF-PIT) was once a highly-touted prospect with the Blue Jays after the franchise took him in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. Now 26, the speedy outfielder will seek to secure an OF spot with the Pirates after his 2020 campaign ended when he fractured an elbow while crashing into an outfield wall. Alford made just 29 PA in 2020 in which he batted .214 with a pair of homers and 3 stolen bases. In fact, he's made only 88 career PA across 51 games played, with a .169 average, 3 longballs, and 6 stolen bases to his name. Nearly 35% of those few PAs have ended in a strikeout while he's drawn walks just 4.5% of the time. So why am I bothering with him here?
Because I think he is worth keeping an eye on as the 2021 campaign unfolds. Alford has never received a chance to play regularly in the majors, but that seems like a real possibility this season with the crappy Pirates. While his hit tool isn't great, he possesses plus raw power and plus-plus speed. He's yet to truly show off his pop in a significant sample size, but what he did in Double-A back in 2018 should raise some eyebrows: a .310 average, 5 longballs, and 18 stolen bases across 289 PA; he also walked at a 12% clip while striking out 16% of the time. Sure, he seems more like a .250ish hitter, but there is certainly a possibility Alford hits for at least modest power and swipes a bunch of bags if he secures a full-time role. Again, he's not someone to draft. But he should be on your watch list just in case.
Salvador Perez (C-KC) bounced back from missing the entire 2019 campaign as he recovered from Tommy John surgery to post a .333 average, 11 big flies, and 32 RBI across 156 PA in 2020. He was intent on punishing the baseball in his return to action, as he logged a 47% hard-hit rate (identical to his 2018 clip) while refusing more than ever before to take a walk (just under 2%). While his strikeout rate ticked upward to 23%, in large part because he swung and missed more often than ever before (14%) and made the lowest percentage of contact in his career (76%), Perez logged a healthy 91mpg average exit velocity on batted balls, recorded a 14% barrel rate, and smoked liners at a 27% clip while registering a healthy-but-not-ridiculous 37% flyball rate. We know his power is legit, but be mindful that the .375 BABIP is highly unsustainable, given that his career rate there is .287. So, while we have Perez ranked as our #2 C overall, expect his average to dip to about his .269 career average, but he should still give you a homer total in at least the high-20s while driving in plenty of runs as he hits in the middle of the Royals' lineup. Perez logged at least 129 games played each year from 2013-2018, so he should be a pretty safe investment if you want to take a top catcher.
Matt Olson (1B-OAK) had an interesting 2020 campaign, as he hit just .195 with 14 homers and 42 RBI across 245 PA. But we expect him to bounce back a bit in the average department in 2021. While he showed tremendous patience at the dish en route to logging a career-best 14% walk rate, he fanned a career-worst 31% of the time as his swinging-strike rate climbed to 13.5% and his contact rate dipped to 73%. But a .227 BABIP (.277 career) also contributed to the average woes despite his hard-hit rate sitting at 46% per Statcast (admittedly down from a 50% career clip) and his average exit velocity finishing at 92 mph (again, slightly down from his 93mph career average). Meanwhile, his flyball rate remained steady at 44% and his HR/FB wasn't far off his career clip at 15.5%. We have Olson slotted at roughly #5 overall for 1B, with a projected average of about .245 to go along with 40 or so homers and 100+ RBI. Basically expect Kris Davis in his prime and you should be satisfied with what you get out of Olson.
Nick Madrigal (2B-CHW) made a promising MLB debut in 2020, as he hit .340 with 11 RBI and a pair of stolen bases across just 109 PA. True to his minor-league track record, the then-23 year-old rarely fanned (6%) but also didn't take many walks (4%) while logging a .365 BABIP that exceeded anything he ever did in the minors (.340 seems more realistic). As one might guess from his low strikeout rate and miniscule hard-hit rate (21% per Statcast), Madrigal's fantasy value will depend on the volume of batted balls that end up liners and grounders, which accounted for a combined 81% of his profile last season. Sure, more flyballs should lead to more homers, but Madrigal is a contact-first guy who possesses well below average raw power and is a true contact-oriented guy with a plus-plus hit tool. And while he possesses good speed, he is not quite a burner on the basepaths - he did swipe 35 bags across 3 levels in 2019. All of that said, we have him ranked fairly low for a 2B - at about #20. That's because while we expect a nice average at about .300, he likely won't hit many homers (expect 10ish) and we anticipate a modest stolen base total about 15. Madrigal won't drive in many runs and may not score a ton of them as he seems destined to at least start the season batting near the bottom of the White Sox lineup. And keep an eye on his status for the start of the season as he recovers from offseason surgery to repair a separated shoulder; he is easing into spring training and has indicated that there is still some soreness in that shoulder.
Adalberto Mondesi (SS-KC) put together a useful 2020 campaign, but we expect even more out of him in 2021. Last year, he batted .256 with 6 dingers, 22 RBI, 33 runs scored, and 24 stolen bases across 233 PA. Yes, the 5% walk rate (which I wouldn't expect to climb going forward) and 30% strikeout rate (same as his career clip) are problematic and will limit his counting stats (after all, one needs to get on base to score runs and few strikeouts end in an RBI). But Mondesi did post a career-best 39% hard-hit rate in 2020 to go along with a career-high 91mph average exit velocity. His launch angle ticked upward to almost 14, but he still posted a groundball rate north of 48% while smoking few liners (12.5%). A lousy 20% swinging-strike rate and a career-worst contact rate just south of 63% are concerning. But here's why we like him as roughly the #5 overall SS: stolen bases are at a premium in today's game, and he should eclipse 60 in a season. And while his strikeout rate is trash, Mondesi's combination of wheels, modest pop, and tendency to hit a bunch of worm-burners mean that his BABIP should remain on the high side (.336 career, .350 last season). And, finally, his ability to make hard contact should lead to a few more balls landing over the fence. We have him down for an average in the .260s to go along with 20 or so homers and over 60 steals.
Clint Frazier (OF-NYY) has seemingly been around forever and it was only last season that he received regular playing time in the MLB. But he's only 26 and seems primed for a starting role in the Yankees outfield in 2021. That should pique your interest. Long regarded as a quality prospect, in large part (for fantasy purposes, at least) because of his power potential, Frazier batted .267 with 8 longballs and 26 RBI across 160 PA in 2020 while chipping in 3 stolen bases. While his strikeout rate remained high at over 27%, he did nearly triple his walk rate to almost 16%. Statcast shows a career-best hard-hit rate of 43%, a barrel rate of 12.5%, and an average exit velocity north of 89mph. His elite bat speed is something that scouts long touted, and it shows in his ability to make hard contact. True, contact is an issue (69% last year, 71% career), but Frazier did trim his swinging-strike rate to 11% last season while posting a career-high .244 ISO. We view him as about the #50 overall OF this year, with a projection for a .260 average, 20 homers, and 10 steals. But he should easily amass more homers if he can make more than 500 PA. Consider him a late-round speculative add that would be, for fantasy purposes, your 4th OF.
Nick Castellanos (OF-CIN) posted a career-best .261 ISO in 2020, but that came with a career-low .225 average as he slugged 14 homers and drove in 34 RBI in 242 PA. The 28 year-old fanned a career-high 29% of the time, although he did draw walks at a career-best 8% clip. Unsurprisingly, his 17% swinging-strike rate and 68% contact rate were both career-worsts. Castellanos' .257 BABIP (.329 career) points to some misfortune suppressing his average, and he did log a career-high 46% hard-hit rate per Statcast to go along with a career-best 16% barrel rate. And while Castellanos logged a characteristic 26% line-drive rate and a healthy 39% flyball rate, that 47% of his batted balls went to centerfield was problematic; his career average in that department is just 34%. So, a climbing strikeout rate and lots of batted balls to the most spacious part of the ballpark were both troublesome. We expect Castellanos to correct things a bit this season, as we project an average around .270 and about 30 homers, good for about the #30 overall OF. Take him as your #2 or #3 OF and you should be satisfied.
Kevin Gausman (SP-SF) may have rejuvenated his career in San Francisco last year, as the then-29 year-old finished the 2020 campaign with a 3.62 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 11.9 K/9, and 2.4 BB/9 across 59.2 IP (10 starts, 2 relief appearances). If anything, his 3.06 xFIP indicates that he was a tad unlucky, with a 15% HR/FB especially inflating that ERA a bit. To be fair, he's always logged high HR/FB rates, with his career clip sitting at nearly 14% - so I wouldn't expect him to suddenly slash that figure to 10ish. The 15% swinging-strike rate that he logged was actually only slightly higher than that which he recorded in 2019, and the 70% contact rate also came in just under what he did in 2019. Encouragingly, the 95-mph average fastball velocity he logged was a full tick higher than that which he posted in 2018 and 2019, and he utilized that pitch a career-low 51% of the time. Meanwhile, his change-up usage jumped to a career-high 13%. We like Gausman as about a #40 SP entering the 2021 season, with a projected ERA about 4, a WHIP near 1.25, and a K/9 around 11. It seems reasonable to expect him to be a #3-4 SP for fantasy.
Zach Plesac (SP-CLE) pitched really well across 8 starts (55.1 IP) in 2020, as he finished the abbreviated campaign with a 2.28 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, and 1 BB/9. His 3.5 xFIP, of course, indicates that Plesac benefitted from good luck along the way, with a .224 BABIP and 92% strand rate suppressing his ERA. However, he posted a 14% swinging-strike rate that compares favorably with rates he logged in the minors, and his 73% contact rate was significantly improved from 2019's 80% clip while Statcast shows that opposing hitters posted a 32% hard-hit rate against him. In addition to showing impeccable control, Plesac altered his repertoire to offer his 93-mph heater just 38% of the time (51% in 2019) while tossing his change 25% of the time, his slider 28% of the time, and his curve about 9% of the time. We like him as a #40ish SP in 2021, with a projected ERA about 4, a WHIP around 1.2, and a K/9 about 9. If you make him your #3 or #4 starter, you should be happy with the results.
Joe Musgrove (SP-SD) made only 8 starts (39.2 IP) for the Pirates in 2020, but he posted an impressive 3.86 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 12.5 K/9, and 3.6 BB/9. The walk rate was certainly concerning, but the spike in strikeouts for the then-27 year-old was encouraging. That was fueled by a career-best 14% swinging-strike rate and career-low 69% contact rate. And when opposing batters made contact against Musgrove, they posted a career-low 32% hard-hit rate against him. Oh, and his 3.19 xFIP indicates that he was a bit unlucky overall, with a slightly elevated .319 BABIP and a high 17% HR/FB inflating his ERA. In short, there is good reason that we are high on Musgrove as he takes his talents to spacious Petco Park. We have him ranked inside the top 30 for SP for the 2021 campaign, with an expectation of an ERA about 3.6, a WHIP around 1.2, and a K/9 north of 10. He's a solid #3 option for fantasy rotations, with a chance to put up #2 numbers.
Jose Berrios (SP-MIN) is coming off an interesting 2020 season in which he posted a meh 4.00 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 12 starts (63 IP) to go along with a career-best 9.7 K/9 and his second-highest BB/9 at 3.7. His 4.28 xFIP indicates that he was just about as good as the ERA suggests, as his .295 BABIP was at about his career average while his strand rate was a bit lucky at 78% (72% career) and his HR/FB was a touch high at 13%. Concerningly, opposing batters posted a career-high 40% hard-hit rate (per Statcast) against Berrios while he logged a career-best 12% swinging-strike rate and surrendered a career-low 75% contact rate. His 95-mph average heater was a career-high, although he used it a career-low 25% of the time while deploying his sinker 26% of the time, his change-up on 19% of pitches, and dropped the curve most often, at 30%. Ultimately this mixed bag leads us to expect more of the same overall out of the 26 year-old, with a slight uptick in whiffs. We have him projected as roughly the #30 overall SP in 2021, with an ERA about 4, a WHIP around 1.3, and a K/9 about 10.